By James Morgan
The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC ended it in a draw Saturday night at Qwest Field in Seattle before a sold out crowd of 36,593 rabid supporters in the first match of this season’s Cascadia Cup. Timbers defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso scored the equalizer in the 65th minute off of a Jack Jewsbury free kick. The set piece was virtually identical to last week’s home game winner against the Philadelphia Union, and further cements the Timbers’ growing reputation as set piece specialists.
“Their game…is predicated around free kicks and set pieces,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid after the match. “That’s what the danger is, that’s what they live for.”
The match was the first of the Cascadia Cup, a supporters-created three-way derby between the Timbers, Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. This year is the first time since its 2004 inception that all three Cascadia Cup participants are in MLS and is accordingly widely expected to attract the largest crowds and most fervent fan-base yet. Saturday night’s match at Qwest did not disappoint in that regard.
Both teams stated during the week that they wanted to come out strong and take an early lead, but it was Seattle that got the best of the first ten minutes of play. Despite a soaking wet field and pouring rain, they used crisp passing and decent ball-control that initially had the Timbers on their back foot. The Timbers, who debuted their “Rose City Red” kits for the match, soon regained composure however, and pushed back to create some early opportunities of their own.
The momentum continued to shift back and forth in the first half with the Sounders showing better passing and ball-control on the sloppy field turf, while the Timbers created more dangerous opportunities with their always-deadly forwards and on several set pieces. The sides looked evenly matched however, and it came as no surprise when the half ended scoreless.
In the second half, the Sounders once again came out guns blazing, and this time Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez shot one in at the 52nd minute off of Roger Levesque’s cross to a Fredy Montero header. The Home crowd nearly brought down the stadium in celebration, but if anything, it seemed to invigorate the Timbers who came roaring back, seemingly all the more determined for the deficit.
Following Danso’s 65th minute goal, there was a noticeable change in momentum, and while the Sounders were able to create a few more chances on goal, especially near the end when an exhausted Timbers back-line began to flag, most of the final third of the match belonged to the Timbers. “They were terrified of us, every set piece we got,” said Timbers head coach John Spencer in post-game comments that are sure to win him no friends among Seattle supporters. “They were scared they were going to give up a goal.”
Other notes and questions:
While it will go down as a draw on paper, everyone knows that the match was basically a win for the Timbers who remain winless on the road and undefeated at home. With Jeld-Wen Field looking increasingly like a fortress, Seattle’s failure to get a win at Qwest does not bode well for their chances at Portland. Since this is so, and since the Vancouver Whitecaps are continuing to struggle and currently hold the bottom spot in MLS’s Western Conference Standings, the Timbers have to be slight favorites to win the Cascadia Cup. It will be no small accomplishment for a first year expansion side.
The Timbers Army (TA) and Emerald City Supporters (ECS) appear to have largely behaved themselves for their first MLS meeting. One might hope that this will silence many of the fear-mongers on either side who’ve been preaching for months about the supposed specter of crowd-violence, but it probably won’t since you cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into. In any case, both TA and ECS leadership deserve credit for having taken a hard-line against those who would make trouble.
Despite its reputation, Seattle appears to have struggled more with the rain and the soggy field than did Portland. As Schmid himself said, “I think the weather suited them a little more in the sense that they just try and go direct anyway to a certain extent, and knock it up to their big men. They were a bit better at that game than we were.” There’s irony for you, or not, depending on how familiar you are with Portland weather.